Strong summer of news boosts Today programme

Although BBC radio has suffered yet another drop in its overall reach according to this quarter's Rajar figures, Radio 4 and in particular the Today programme had a good summer.

Eight months into his appointment as editor of the station's flagship breakfast programme, Ceri Thomas has overseen a rise in its weekly audience from 5.87m to 6.13m in the period from June to September.

Thomas told Press Gazette: "With the Rajar figures, anyone who reaches for the champagne on the basis of one set of Rajars has to be daft, because it is trends that we are interested in.

"But I do think that people notice when programmes are on form, and I think there has been a skip in step of the Today programme recently. People are picking up on the fact that we have broadened the agenda somewhat, we are doing slightly less party politics than we used to. Maybe some of that is feeding through."

Last quarter, the number of people listening to Today fell from 6.12m to 5.87m, a drop which was blamed on a "particularly slow news quarter".

But the last three months have included the Forest Gate Arrests, the alleged plans to bomb Heathrow airport and the events in the Middle East.

Thomas said the war in Lebanon was the dominant news event of the period, but added that a big news story did not necessarily guarantee higher listening figures.

"Those kind of things can turn against you, because the audience sometimes doesn't have as big an appetite for these big international news stories, as we do," he said.

In April this year, outgoing Today editor Kevin Marsh described the position as a "great job" but with "constant, unreasonably idiotic demands".

However, Thomas said: "It's tremendous fun with brilliant people to work with. The hours can be crippling — if you could see me now, I look twice my age. You have to remember that [there are] day to day huge challenges, but [it's] huge fun."

Last week, presenter John Humphrys filed a series of reports from Iraq, the first time in 20 years that he had reported from a war zone. While Thomas admitted that Humphrys "had his reservations", the secret to cajoling the seasoned reporter into making the trip to Basra was simple. "I bought him a couple of pints," Thomas said.

Thomas, who went to Basra in April, said: "I know from my own personal experience that there is enough that you can see to make it worthwhile. It keeps you well informed, not just while you do the programmes, but for the next six months to a year. We'll understand that story better than we would have done if we had not have gone."

Although there is speculation as to whether Humphrys — now 62 — will renew his contract when it ends later this year, Thomas said it was "very likely" he would.

He said: "I haven't started talking to him about it yet. But when you see what he did in Basra and what he delivers back to the programme, he still has a big place here."


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